A former college track and field coach from Chicago pleaded guilty this week in a cyberstalking and extortion scheme to obtain nude images of female student-athletes from across the country.
Steve Waithe, 30, pleaded guilty in a federal courtroom in Boston on Tuesday to 12 counts of wire fraud, one count of cyberstalking, one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud, and one count of computer fraud, aiding and abetting, authorities said in a news release.
“Mr. Waithe’s conduct is despicable,” said Acting United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy. “For almost a year, he manipulated, exploited and, in one case, stalked young women across the county, hiding behind a web of anonymized social media accounts and fabricated personas he engineered. Mr. Waithe maliciously invaded the lives of dozens of innocent victims and inflicted real trauma. He now knows no one can hide from justice — even anonymously behind a keyboard.”
FILE — In this Jan. 31, 2019 file photo, pedestrians walk near a Northeastern University sign on the school’s campus in Boston. (AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi, File). Inset: Steve Waithe (via YouTube screengrab).
As Law&Crime previously reported, Waithe used his position as a coach at Northeastern University to steal compromising photos of women on the team from their cellphones.
“During his time at Northeastern [University], Waithe regularly requested the use of cellphones of student-athletes for the stated purpose of filming their form at practice and at meets,” the complaint stated. “In these circumstances, female student-athletes provided Waithe with access to their phones and permission to record videos of them. While at times Waithe did record the performance of female student-athletes, Waithe also was observed ‘scrolling through’ the phone(s) of one or more female student-athletes while holding the phone(s) as if he were recording video.”
Prosecutors alleged Waithe then utilized fake social media accounts to contact the victims under the pretense of warning them that their nude photos had leaked online and holding himself out as someone who was going to help them. He claimed that he could get the pictures removed from the internet but said he needed more nude or seminude photos to do that, according to the complaint.
“As set forth below, beginning at least in or around February 2020, Waithe engaged in a scheme designed to trick female then-current or former Northeastern student-athletes into sending him nude or seminude photos of themselves,” the complaint stated. “In perpetrating the scheme, Waithe repeatedly employed the same basic pattern of conduct: disclosure of compromising photos of the victim, a claim that the photos had been discovered online, and a request for additional photos.”
In one instance, Waithe allegedly contacted “Victim 1” on Instagram under the username “anon. 4887,” introducing himself as “Katie Janovich.” He told the victim he’d found compromising photos of her online and sent her several nude and seminude pictures of her and other members of the team, saying he took screenshots of the photos to help.
After Victim 1 said she wanted “Katie Janovich’s” help, Waithe said, “Not until you send me pictures of you.”
“Under the pretense that ‘Katie’s’ own compromising photos had also been found online, Waithe repeatedly requested more photos from Victim 1, writing, ‘I’ll send you all the personal ones if you send me you[;] that’s the only way[.] I also saw another girl that you might know too. But only if you send yours.’ Waithe also wrote, ‘You should send me one of you then,’” the complaint said.
Waithe also allegedly oversaw a phony “athlete research” or “body development” study in which he emailed prospective victims under the fake “Katie” pseudonym requesting information about their height, weight, and diet. The false research emails also asked the victims to include photographs of themselves in a “uniform or bathing suit to show as much skin as possible,” indicating that the pictures wouldn’t be saved. Fake sample pictures purporting to be of “Katie” were included as examples. According to prosecutors, Waithe was able to collect more than 300 photographs from more than 10 victims through the false “body development study” scheme.
He worked at the university from October 2018 to February 2019. He was fired after a school investigation uncovered “inappropriate conduct toward female student-athletes.”
He is set to be sentenced on March 6.
Law&Crime’s Jerry Lambe contributed to this report.
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]